If U.S. Rep. Greg Walden wins re-election to the 2nd Congressional District post as expected, he plans to seek the chairmanship of the powerful National Republican Congressional Committee next year. Washington, D.C., insiders say he is the clear front-runner for the position.
Walden, 55, who has been the deputy chairman of the committee for the past four years, confirmed in a phone interview Thursday with the Mail Tribune that he will run for the NRCC chairmanship.
GOP House members elect the committee's chairman, which is the fifth most powerful seat in that political body.
"I enjoy what I do for the people in the 2nd District, but I believe that being more involved in an elected leadership position makes me even more effective," Walden said. "I'd rather be on the court calling the shots than sitting on the bench."
Created in 1866 immediately after the Civil War, the committee has one primary goal: to elect Republicans to the House. Across the aisle, the opposing party has the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, whose main mission is to do the same for Democrats.
Walden, 55, first elected to Congress in 1998, has made a point of visiting each county in the vast district at least twice a year. His Democratic opponent in the district race, Joyce Segers of Ashland, has questioned whether he can maintain his contact with the district if he heads the NRCC.
"Yes, I'll still do it," he said. "I will keep all those commitments. I've been doing this for the last four years now. I've had town-hall meetings in every county every year."
As deputy chairman of the NRCC, much of the work he has been doing in the committee reflects what he would do in the top spot, he said.
"I never forget who gives me the opportunity to serve and represent them," he said. "Serving them is my most important job. But I believe I can be more effective at the leadership table."
A member of the Oregon congressional delegation hasn't chaired a comparable GOP committee in Congress since former U.S. Sen. Bob Packwood, who served in the Senate from 1969 to 1995. Walden is now the only Republican member in the Oregon delegation.
Walden appears to be a "sure bet" to head the NRCC, according to the Wednesday edition of The Hill, a political newspaper and on-line publication in D.C. A source told The Hill that current NRCC chairman Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, supports Walden's run for the chairmanship.
Sessions and Walden have campaigned together for 18 candidates in nine states during this campaign cycle, The Hill reported. Walden spoke to the Mail Tribune from Phoenix, Ariz., where he had been campaigning for other GOP candidates.
Traveling to other districts to help fellow party members get elected is not unusual, Walden said, noting that both U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., have campaigned out of state this year.
"It is what we do in a campaign cycle," Walden said.
Since he joined the committee, Walden said, there has been a concerted effort to upgrade the NRCC.
"We have changed up everything from the way it was run before," he said.
Sessions and Walden played key roles in the GOP's net gains of 63 seats in the 2010 election, according to The Hill.
"The reforms in the committee helped Republicans get the majority back in the House," Walden told the Mail Tribune. "We want to continue the evolution of the committee."
He knows of no other member of the GOP who intends to run for the slot, he said.
"This is about being in the political majority," Walden said, referring to the fact the GOP has the majority in the House. "I've been in the minority. I would rather be in the majority. But I also want to work across the aisle to get things done."
Reach reporter Paul Fattig at 776-4496 or e-mail him at email@example.com.